Friday, November 14, 2008

The World Chicken Festival

For a classic Southern festival with all the character, odd items for sale and next to every food possible deep-fried, the World Chicken Festival in London, Kentucky is a prime example. Every summer this small town opens up its doors to the world and according to locals about 300,000 people pour in for all the festivities. Less than twenty miles down the road from the home to the original KFC in Corbin, Kentucky, London hosts the yearly festival over several closed off blocks downtown. Besides, any event that advertises the "worlds largest skillet" is worth checking out.

We spent a couple of hours roaming the street, ducking into booths of local wares, t-shirts, toys to tempt the younger crowd, and of course a few places with items pawned off as local with those little "made in china" stickers still prominently affixed. For those looking to mingle with the unnaturally gorgeous types that live in tv-land, this isn't the place. It's a place to disappear in a t-shirt clad denim world. That infamous skillet is located at one end of main street; the line for chicken meals was long enough that despite my strong desire to consume something from a skillet so large it requires a garden rake to stir, I gave in to the call of a shorter line for funnel cake instead. It was a tough decision, mass quantities of fried chicken or a funnel cake... hmm... fried and artery clogging in the sweet or savory form... Either one has a truly satisfying effect.

Despite the size of the crowd and location, parking wasn't terribly difficult or expensive. Rather than starting at the nearby lemonade stand where they didn't even make a pretense of trying to hide the Country Time Instant Mix they were using to make their $5 a glass "homemade" lemonade, we stopped at a local restaurant for lunch on the way to Main Street. House's Restaurant was a real find. The food was good, but what really made it exceptional was the hospitality of owners Dean and Doris and their really cool pool hall in back. Decorated with quirky message signs and memorabilia and with the tunes provided by a real jukebox (the kind that plays 45 singles) the pool hall was the kind of place you could hang out for hours and never get bored, while never really doing much either. Owner Doris is there grilling up burgers daily, and it's clearly one of those fixtures in the area; the restaurant has been in the same spot since 1963. Well worth the stop on 4th Street, plus it's right on the way to Main street and the Chicken Festival.

To compensate for the overload of inevitable fried goodies that ultimately most any visitor to the festival will be tempted into consuming, the day starts with a 5K run. It certainly made me feel better knowing that I'd prepaid my penance for the funnel cake I ate that afternoon. Plus the course for the race was interesting, and definitely hilly enough to be challenging. For those who are not into such a hardy wake-up, sleeping in until the parade starts at around 11am is a perfectly acceptable substitute.

Overall it's worth a drive, but at 7 hours one-way, I'll probably not make it a yearly pilgrimage. But if I did go back, I'd probably wait in line for a piece of chicken.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Patti's Pies

So if you were to have a good meal at a restaurant back in the 1880's, would it have included a list of around thirty different pies, many of which are topped with enough meringue to reach 9 inches high? In those days there wasn't a Denny's or IHOP in nearly every town, much less a variety of deserts to compare to the modern day choices.

But at Patti's 1880's Settlement in Grand Rivers, Kentucky, you can kick it old school... really old school... and get your choice of a whole lot of pies in a somewhat kitschy 1880's style setting. The restaurant sits among floral and plant gardens, sculptures, pens holding a odd collection of barnyard critters and a bit of a small town on the lake. (See photo at right of one of the oddest chickens I've ever seen. I honestly thought it was a dog at first.) Ladies wearing long simple floral print dresses take orders and rattle off the list of pies from memory to full patrons who just keep on eating anyway (me included.) The menu includes plenty of choices of good southern food in generous portions, including fresh homemade potato chips, which themselves are a treat not to be missed. The pies... they were something to behold, in all their massive glory. Just looking at the miles of meringue waiting to be consumed was blissful. Oh, and they do have pies that aren't meringues that are pretty amazing too. The Chess Pie, Bill's Boatsinker Pie and the Dutch Peach Pie were all amazing in their own way, and honestly I couldn't choose a favorite of them all, they were all that impressively good.

I've been asked more than once how do I find these places? This one was recommended to my dad, and it was just a few miles out of the way on our trip toward eastern Kentucky. The recommended dish was the Pork Chops and they were definitely pretty outstanding. If they took away the "theme park" of the place and just kept the menu with all its tasty bits intact, it would be worth making a stop. It's the added theme (and convenient gift shop) that brings in the busloads of tourists on their own treks across the state. I can't say I blame them for doing what pays the bills; just don't stop making those pies. Those will bring the foodies like me back, and have us sending our friends by to sit a spell too.